Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Life Lessons: Advice of a Graduate (pt. 1)

A few weeks ago I wrote about how going to university was the best decision of my life so far. At the moment, term is nearly over for the Christmas break and students, from first to final year, have settled into their routines and are facing the first of their deadlines...and the dreaded January exams and assignments.

In my last post, I spoke about how, although I went to university for academic reasons, I learned far, far more than that. I came out of the other side a completely different person, having grown and discovered myself a little more. I had learnt many lessons, and not just through my seminars and lectures.

University is not just a place to educate yourself about your chosen subject for three or more years (which is exactly what happens - you learn to teach yourself). It's a place to try new things, meet people, fall in (or out of) love, go on adventures and work out what makes you tick. You are exposed to so many opportunities and people that anything is possible. The intensity of the time spend at university can mean that everything happens very quickly, and you grow more within a few years than you did as an awkward, uncertain adolescent.

Although at 24 I really do not feel grown up, I realise how much more of an adult I am now compared to my 18 year-old self when I moved into halls five years ago. At the time, I thought myself fairly mature, sensible and wise. Looking back, I now realise that I dealt with things very differently and saw life through very different eyes. Although I know all these changes can occur outside of further education,  from personal experience I am quite sure that I will never learn quite so much about life as I did within those four years at university.

So, as some of you reading this may be students, considering higher education, or perhaps feeling nostalgic about your own student life, I offer some of my own personal advice for your time as a student in two posts - here's part one.

1. Give it time

So many people I knew as a student felt that they should settle in and get stuck into alllll the activities as soon as they finished unpacking and personalising their new room. The pressure to throw yourself straight in can mean that, if things don't fall into place within a few days, some people may panic.

I was very lucky in that I got on with my flatmates in halls from the moment we brewed our first cuppa together - but my involvement in societies took a couple of years, as my confidence grew. In fact, I didn't join a society until my third and fourth years. My marks weren't at their best when I started either,  due to still thinking like a sixth-former (there's a big leap in terms of what's expected of you), and I wondered what was wrong with me - why was I taking so long to get involved and see progress when others found it so easy?

There's no right or wrong way to spend your years as a student. My advice would be to join societies when you are ready, make informed decisions, don't go wild on nights out if you don't want to, and if you'd rather stay in for a film-night then do it.  Even if you feel settled into independent life, some of the little things will take a little longer to fall into place until you feel you can be yourself and do what you want.

Everyone's different and so our university experiences will all differ greatly - what works for some may not for others. It's ok to try things out, otherwise you'll never learn about what you enjoy! But never feel forced to rush into anything, or do anything you don't want to do. I suppose that's a lesson for life, not just for uni. If you can't wait to get stuck in straight away...then great!

Most importantly, if you're struggling, sad, homesick or unhappy with your course and are thinking of leaving, you need to give it as much time as you can before you know for certain. Talk to coursemates, lecturers, counsellors, advisors, friends and housemates. Give it all a chance. Just put your happiness and safety first.

2. It's all about balance

I spent far too many nights in my first year staying up as late as possible for no good reason, even if I wasn't going out. Eventually this made me ill and grumpy, and my grades suffered. In second year, I nearly wept with joy when it became normal to go to bed at 11pm!

Looking after yourself is another thing to get used to, and the initial reaction to moving away from home is to do whatever you want, through just sheer excitement. Too many late nights, binge-drinking sessions and takeaways are just going to make you feel unwell and can have a huge effect on your productivity, relationships and health. Try to eat well on a budget, enjoy an early night every so often, stick to soft drinks when you want to and just take some time away from those books to relax and make yourself happy. Don't crash and burn, but don't forget to make memories - it's all about finding your perfect balance. Do what feels good for you.

3. Be yourself

At first, the focus is all on making friends, meeting people and finding common ground. This is great, but I found that after that initial rush, it was important to do what I wanted to. So, join that society you're interested in, even if you'd be going alone; go for a run, or indulge in your guilty pleasures. University is all about finding yourself, and not copying other people, whether that starts in your first or final year. Try new things, explore the area, start a blog, get involved in student politics. There's nothing worse than looking back on three years and saying to yourself 'That wasn't me.' or 'I wish I'd done that...'. Not doing something you're passionate about because it's not the status quo is what school was for - university is a time to break boundaries and push yourself out of your comfort zone a little!  It's ok to be a little selfish and focus on what you want. Go for it, work out who you are, and don't be afraid of the fact that you might change as a person, because you will; it's called growth.

4. Take advantage of what's around you

University is a unique place where everything is available to you. You want to be a television presenter? Join the Student Television team. You want to try out a new sport? Good  - there are hundreds to choose from. What about evenings? Well, there are nights out, theatre performances, debates, lectures, meetings...countless things to get involved with. After graduation, it's harder to get involved in such a variety of exciting projects and societies - so now is the time to take up Cantonese, life drawing or archery. The world's your oyster. Grab every opportunity that comes your way with both hands when you want it,  and who knows where it might lead you! I know so many people who have turned their student hobbies into careers. This is as important as your degree (but don't tell your lecturers that!).

5. Work isn't everything - switch off

My degree was the most important thing to me, and of course I worked as hard as I could. However, I found it difficult to switch off and enjoy the time off I would occasionally have, be it in the holiday breaks or in the evenings. The feeling that I needed to be working would hang over me like a heavy black cloud, sucking the fun out of everything. The guilt would be overpowering.

So my fifth piece of advice is to take time out. And I mean real time out. Separate it from your work; enjoy time with family and friends, and don't let assignments prey on your mind 24/7. It's hard, but it means you won't look back and remember everything you did in relation to what assignment you had going on at that stage (so, so depressing). 

If you're a student, or considering university in the future, I hope these five points are helpful. I'll be posting part two up soon.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

#sotonoctmeetup - The Goody Bag

It's a little delayed - but I have been able to give you all a little sneak peek into the goody bag from last month's #sotonoctmeetup - I promise the next one will be up quicker!

I wrote about my experience at my first local bloggers' meet-up on October 25th. I was incredibly excited to be a part of it all, and it was a great opportunity to meet some lovely fellow bloggers...but the little cherry on the delicious bloggers' cake was the generous goody bag we received at the end of the day!

Not only did we have some lovely brands with us throughout the day, including ESPA, Lush, Merumaya and In Situ Cosmetics, but other brands had been generous enough to donate some treats for goody bags and a raffle.

I was lucky enough to win a Crabtree & Evelyn gift set in the raffle - which I didn't manage to photograph or review as I just had to give it to my mum, as she never treats herself to beauty products like that! Other great prizes included some beautiful jewellery from Silver Tree and treats from ESPA, who were at the event themselves, amongst others!

Now, the goody bags were just lovely. Catherine had popped a little heartfelt tag on the bag, which was crammed with goodies, many of which were natural and cruelty-free. Here are some of the gifts and samples I received!

There were also a number of leaflets and offers within the bag too, which I am still yet to go through and make the most of, so I'm looking forward to that. I've already been using some of these products - I have a bad habit of hoarding and saving treats like these up! I've been enjoying using Steamcream, the lip balm is lovely, and the body mist smells amazingly fresh. I also received a few compliments for the Leighton Denny varnish! I'm looking forward to testing out my other treats in the run up to Christmas - when you need treats like these the most! I also received a cute teacup and teapot set and some chocolate.

I felt very lucky to come back with some amazing gifts. As well as these, I received a mini ESPA skincare kit - which I have been absolutely loving, so expect  a review very, very soon!

If you attended the #sotonoctmeetup I'd love to know which products you've been enjoying the most!

Monday, 17 November 2014

So Natural: So Calming Lavender and Aloe Vera Shampoo & Conditioner*

In the summer, the lovely ladies over at So Natural popped along some of their products for me to try. Along with my brown bag full of body products (including an amazing body & face oil, and a body scrub) they sent along another, with some natural treats for my hair!

Although in my previous posts I mentioned that I do like to try and use simple, kind-to-skin products on my face and body, my hair is another story. Honestly? I’ll just buy whatever is on offer, as I find a lot of haircare over-priced. If it’s discounted, and my bottles are nearly empty, I’ll put them in my basket and be on my way.

This is strange, really, because my head is where my really sensitive skin lives. I’ve always had a temperamental scalp; a combination of soft water and stress can leave it incredibly uncomfortable. This has, fortunately, calmed down as I’ve grown up, but sometimes it does flare up and it’s times like this when I could probably do with taking better care of it!

I tend to use all of the usual shampoos to help with this, but I’ve never really considered using something natural, to soothe my skin and care for my hair. I never really thought about using chemical-free products to help with this problem of mine.

As explained in my previous reviews, So Natural are a family business who focus on kind-to-skin, cruelty-free products without chemicals. Good for the body, and the soul.

I received So Natural’s So Calming Shampoo and Conditioner. My first impressions were very good; the products come in lovely bottles, which match my other samples and look good on my bathroom shelf - always a priority, of course! I was particularly pleased to see a pump dispenser for each; I tend to end up with far too much product in my hands usually, so this means no wasted lotions and potions and therefore less money wasted too. It also means that bottles can't be dropped with slippery hands in the shower - something I'm always doing! I always think that a pump dispenser for hair-care gives the product a really high-end, luxury feel.

These products contain lavender, which is perfect for me, as I usually wash my hair before bed in the evening. They smell calming, and subtle, so thankfully not too overpowering - nobody wants their hair to smell like an over-stocked florist! The aloe vera is also very soothing and a lovely addition to the product. These were definitely chosen for their lovely scents as well as for their soothing properties for your skin and scalp.

On each of their samples, So Natural had provided information about their products. I had been advised that these would not foam quite as much as other shampoos and conditioners, due to the absence of chemicals. This was very reassuring, and it was nice to know what was normal for the products so that I didn't worry when the time came to use them. Sometimes it’s nice to physically see the difference between natural products and chemical-laden ones.

I really enjoyed using the shampoo and conditioner. I loved the pumps, as I've mentioned; the products are easy to use, and they stay nice and clean! The So Calming Shampoo smells lovely, and still foamed enough for me, despite the warning. My hair felt deeply cleansed, as if it had got rid of any residue from other hair products used throughout the day. I'm always keen to try to prevent the build-up of gels and oils in my hair and this shampoo certainly left my hair feeling naked, natural and clean.

The So Calming Conditioner was equally as deliciously-scented and easy to use. As with the shampoo, due to the natural ingredients the conditioner wasn't as rich and thick as some others, and I wasn't sure how much to use. I'm used to my hair feeling coated in a 'mask' of conditioner, and so I instinctively used a large amount to get the same effect. This, I think, was a mistake, as I clearly struggled to clean it all off, and my hair was a little greasy after being left to dry naturally. This was a real shame as it was lovely to use, and smelled divine. Unfortunately, the same thing happened after I used it for a second time. It's clear that with these products your hair won't feel covered in the product even when you've definitely used enough!

My verdict? The shampoo left my hair feeling incredibly clean and light, and both products smelled so relaxing. The products definitely made my hair feel restored - which is exactly what was promised! My scalp also really benefited - perhaps the purity of the ingredients and the lack of chemicals meant that my scalp was less irritated, and this is definitely something I'll be considering for the future. Sadly, I was a little disappointed that my hair felt so greasy, but I'll put this down to my own personal misuse of the conditioner! I don't think this will happen every time with proper use and 'portioning'. I must have been too enthusiastic!

I am continuing to use So Natural's So Calming Conditioner and Shampoo as part of my routine - I think my scalp will thank me for it!  I'm also more careful when using the conditioner - less is definitely more with these products, and it definitely proves that natural and chemical-free does not mean less effective!

*This post is a review of products sent to me by the company. However, my views are 100% honest and completely my own.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

October Favourites

It's been a few months since I wrote my last Monthly Favourites. I've had a really busy few weeks, with work and play getting in the way of my writing. I've even been unsure about this series on my blog (do let me know your thoughts!) but it's time I started it up again, starting with October!

One of my favourite months, October hails the start of Autumn. Red leaves, muddy boots and steamed-up windows. I love the scarves, the woolly layers and the comfort food - though sadly this year, October was really warm - so the cosy clothes had to wait!

I've been really enjoying a lot of things recently, but obviously it's impossible to fit everything on here are just a few of my favourite things from October.

Hope and Greenwood Sweets

My lovely friend gave me these when she came to stay a few weeks ago, and they were absolute heaven. Firstly, the packaging is beautiful - vintage, and almost too good to recycle! These would make the perfect present. The coconut ice was so fruity and fresh, and the salted caramel fudge is rich and creamy. Secondly...they're incredibly moreish, and I've got my eye on more....I just need an excuse to buy some! If you have a sweet tooth and fancy treating yourself to something a little different, I can't recommend these more.

I've been eyeing these up for months after spotting them occasionally in haul posts and reviews online, and I spontaneously picked one up a few weeks ago. I fancied something a bit more 'out there' than my go to neutral lip colours, and that's definitely what I got! It's a vibrant red, but not 'pillar-box' - perfect for a pop of colour, but not garish. I would almost say it's a dull red with a hint of brown. The formula, however, is my favourite feature. It really is amazing and everything I hoped it would be! It stays on like a dream and doesn't dry my lips.  It's ever so creamy, just like a melted lipstick. I'm definitely looking into buying a few more when they're next on offer.

Netflix - Orange is the New Black

I finally got round to getting Netflix last month and I'm so glad I did. I was unsure whether it would be worth it for me but I love having so much choice, and even though I don't spend all my time watching it, I love the fact that I can just watch what I want, when I want - from the comfort of my bed! There were so many shows I wanted to watch after hearing people recommend them, but the first thing I watched was Orange is the New Black. It's very different to my usual choice of show, but that's a good thing. I won't give anything away...but thoroughly recommend giving it a try if you want something new to watch.  It really is as good as everyone says! The characterisation is brilliant, the plot twists are superb, and you get so wrapped up in the lives these ladies - it's a must-watch. I'm also pretty addicted to Gossip Girl and Arrested Development, and cant wait to start Breaking Bad. If you have any favourites on Netflix, please let me know in the comments!

This little gem was one of my purchases after the Lush Festive Preview in October. In fact, it was the first item I put into my basket. It's my dream winter product; dark red, sparkly and warming. I prefer my Christmas scents to be spicy rather than sweet; think cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. This shower gel just smells of winter and is perfect for a hot shower after a cold walk home. I can't imagine this little bottle will last until December so I may have to get some more - I'm alternating between this and Yog Nog, and both are lovely to use.

This one's a little different, but when I find a company who are top-notch with great service, I like to share it. I've been a fan of Photobox for years, and get all of my digital photos printed by them. I've even used their other services, and had mugs and phone cases made by them. Everything I've ordered from them has been excellent, and when things go awry (think missing parcels) they sort it in a flash. I had some more photos printed this month because I want to start putting some albums together, and they were still just as easy to order and came in great time. I also had a voucher - they often have sales and offers, which makes it even more affordable. I can't wait to get more printed and make sure my memories are all safe and there to be shared offline. There's something about having an album of memories...and I'm not talking about the Facebook kind!

I've been using So Natural's chemical-free Face and Body Oil throughout the summer, and have very nearly run out! It's been a blessing in the colder weather, and smells gorgeous. I won't go on for too long - you can read all of my thoughts on it in my review - but it's still a firm favourite and I'm going to have to look into getting some more.

Oh, and two little things before I go:

My blog now has a Facebook page! Head over to 'like' She Wears Burgundy to keep updated on my latest posts.

I'm also holding my first ever giveaway! SWB turned one last week, and I'm giving my readers something to say thank you. If you haven't yet, make sure you enter for your chance to win a little relaxation kit!

What have you been loving this month?

Monday, 3 November 2014

My First Bloggers Meet-Up - #sotonoctmeetup

Blogging is, more often than not, quite an isolated past-time. Writing, researching and reading blog posts is a one-man job, involving many nights in alone with your beloved laptop and whatever camera you choose as your weapon. So when an opportunity to meet fellow bloggers comes can create a sense of excitement and fear in one go!

I first heard about #sotonoctmeetup on twitter a month or so ago. A number of local bloggers were going to get together in a venue to chat, eat and sample products from some brands. Catherine, a fellow blogger, had taken it upon herself to organise the event, and after months of planning, some major changes and last-minute cancellations, the day arrived. Unfortunately, Catherine couldn't attend in the end, but another blogger, Alice, stepped up and the meet-up went ahead.

I was very nervous, but excited. I didn't think about it too much before the day, and it was only until I began walking to the venue that I started to feel anxious. Fortunately, after sitting down tentatively amongst the other girls, and making some awkward small talk, I started to feel a little better. I felt very self-conscious and almost like an imposter when I arrived, like I wasn't supposed to be I ordered a cheeky tropical mojito and started chatting to two lovely ladies in particular - Kelly, from Along Came Kelly and Tammi from Tammingtons. They were so easy to get along with and we had a lot in common in terms of our blogging techniques! We were all fairly new, all bewildered by the technical side of beauty blogging and very nervous! It was lovely to have some friendly faces to help me settle into the event.

I also got to meet other bloggers too! Alice from Annie Writes Beauty and Mandy from One Slice of Lemon have spoken to me on twitter a few times, so it was lovely to put a face to a twitter handle. There were so many other girls too whose blogs I am still hunting down. It was only a small meet up, but it was still hard to talk to everyone in the time we had - especially when you're too shy to make the first move.

We enjoyed out drinks and food, before chatting to a few brands - Lush were there, which made my day, and I enjoyed an arm massage from the ladies from the Southampton store. I also spoke to people from ESPA, who took a look at my skin and offered a taster kit, and In Situ Cosmetics, who focus on personalised skincare. 

After a lot of chatting, eating and moisturising, I left the event with a lovely goodie-bag and some new friends. I don't really focus on beauty on this blog - I'm very much a novice, but with so many skincare samples I am looking forward to discovering some new favourites! I am particularly keen to start using my ESPA products (and book a complimentary mini-facial!)

I really enjoyed taking this step and attending my first meet-up - it's nerve-wracking and intimidating at first, but it's well worth it, and  I'm looking forward to getting more involved in many other ways. I'll also hopefully be writing my advice for attending blogging events in another post, and looking at the goodies I received too - so watch out for that.

I really appreciated having the opportunity to attend the #sotonoctmeetup - I've only been blogging for a year, and am no expert on beauty (which these meet-ups seem to centre around) but it's a huge step for me to build up my confidence to meet others who seem to be experts and well-respected writers in the local blogging bubble and beyond. I can't wait for the next one! Thanks to those who organised and ran the event - I had a great afternoon.

I'm lucky enough to be going along to another local meet-up in two weeks. After my first experience I'm already really looking forward to it, and although I am nervous again, I am planning to throw myself straight in. I do feel worried that I'll stand out like a sore thumb, and that the other attendees will be professional and coiffed - but if the offline blogging community is as friendly and welcoming as it is online, then I have nothing to worry about!

If you attended the meet-up,  or if you're heading to the next one in a couple of weeks, please stop and say hi (especially if I never had the chance to chat to you!) It's always lovely to find new blogs to read and people to listen to.